Varajas knelt before the altar as he had a thousand times before. Today was different. This time, he sank down a novice, but he would rise a priest.
High Father Valus Donatien stood before the altar. Beside him was a velvet-lined platform with the trappings of the order Varajas was about to enter in to. The High Father faced out into the church where the entire order had gathered, along with the other novices, local priests, and laity. Varajas felt them at his back, a wall of faith and support that was the true strength behind every Bladed Brother.
“A petitioner has come before me,” the High Father said, his words beginning the ritual that Varajas had witnessed a dozen times already, living for the day when he could finally speak his own words. “Who are you and what do you seek?”
“I am Varajas zhi Ehrun, and I seek to enter the service of the Light.”
“The Light sees you, Varajas. It touches you, as it touches us all. But this is no small thing you speak of. We who walk in the footsteps of the Shepherd and the Prophet, we must prove ourselves worthy, on this first day and every day after.
“As you ask the church to take you in, I ask you: what would you bring as offering?”
Varajas unbuckled his belt, removed it, and lay it—and the sword attached to it—at the High Father’s feet. It was a beautiful blade, an heirloom, in a scabbard crafted of gold and emeralds Varajas’s own uncle had cut. “This sword belonged to my father, to his grandfather, and his father before, who received it as a gift from the King of Ritalle. I offer it to the church, along with my family name. I am no longer zhi Ehrun.
“I would walk in the footsteps of the Shepherd, forsaking the worldly trappings that distract us from a true communion with God. I would walk in the footsteps of the Prophet, turning aside from all voices but the true voice of the church and the Words of the Light. I would offer myself, the whole of me, to serve.”
Varajas had practiced these words so he wouldn’t falter, but he meant them sincerely. He was more than ready to give himself over to a calling he believed in.
The High Father nodded, lifting his attention from Varajas to the congregation. “Varajas comes before us ready to serve. Who would speak for him?”
Varajas heard the rustle of movement behind him. He couldn’t look, but he knew who would be standing. This, too, had been practiced. “I will speak for Varajas, and welcome him as a brother.” That from Kalyan, who had been Varajas’s sponsor.
“I will speak for Varajas, and welcome him as a brother.” That was Abbot Paulo, who led the monks of the church who were not part of the Brotherhood. Paulo was a scholar with endless patience for the questions Varajas couldn’t seem to stop asking. They’d developed a friendship, and Varajas had been touched when Paulo had asked to speak for him.
But nothing meant as much as the third voice offering the ritual words. Light and clear, it echoed through the nave. “I will speak for Varajas and welcome him as a brother.”
Ruan, who had been through his own investiture only days before. It had been a competition—ever since they’d been paired together in training—who would earn their swords first. Ruan had beaten him, barely, but the sting was erased by Ruan’s insistence that his first act as a full priest would be to stand for Varajas. And by the knowledge that, from today on, they’d be moving forward together.
The High Father lifted the ornate cross from the table and spread the chain on which it hung. “You have offered yourself to the Brotherhood, cast off the bindings of your life before, and have been welcomed by the voices of the church. And thus, I add my voice to theirs.” He lowered the chain over Varajas’s bowed head. “In the name of the Shepherd and the Prophet, in full view of the Light, I welcome you. Rise, Brother Varajas.”
Varajas stood, breaking from the ceremony for the briefest moment to look back at Ruan, who gave him a nod, lips pressed tight together against a smile.
Now the High Father held the belt with the twin swords that were the true symbol of the Bladed Brotherhood. Varajas lifted his arms so they could be buckled around his waist. “With these blades, I welcome you. Let them only be drawn in service of the Light, and so long as you fight in defense of the church and the people she protects, let them never dull and never break.”